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Something Wicked This Way Comes

ConversionKatherine Howe’s first teen novel Conversion follows in the footsteps of her adult novels, as it deals with the paranormal, with witches and witchcraft. Conversion switches perspectives—from modern day St. Joan’s Academy, an elite, all-girls private school, to 17th century Salem Village—as Howe tells the story of two girls, Colleen Rowley and Ann Putnam Jr.,  who are linked despite growing up centuries apart.

 

The majority of the story is Colleen’s, a high school senior whose greatest desire in life is to be class valedictorian and attend Harvard. When Colleen returns to St. Joan’s for the last semester of her senior year, things take a drastic turn, as her classmates begin falling sick. Initially, the media blames a vaccine for the odd tics that the girls develop, but as more and more St. Joan’s girls succumb to the mystery illness, Colleen and others begin to question the diagnosis. Meanwhile, Howe weaves in chapters of Ann Putnam Jr.’s confession of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, drawing parallels between the two stories.

 

Longtime fans of Katherine Howe will enjoy this new teen title, while those new to Howe’s books, looking for a book with a paranormal twist, will enjoy Conversion. Loosely based on a real story of teenage girls falling sick at a New York high school and Ann Putnam Jr.’s real accounts of her involvement in the Salem witch trials, Conversion is based in reality. Howe adds her signature paranormal elements that make the reader question everything.

Laura

 
 

More and More Peculiar

Cover art for Hollow CityAs a boy, Jacob Portman was always spellbound by the stories his grandfather told him about children with strange powers who lived in an isolated house on a Welsh island. After his grandfather’s violent death, he receives a mysterious letter from a Miss Peregrine, travels to the island and discovers that his grandfather’s stories — and the children — are very much real. So what happens next to the Peculiar Children? Ransom Riggs’ much-anticipated new book, Hollow City, is the second book and sequel to his bestselling novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. In Hollow City, Jacob and the peculiar friends he meets in the first book have escaped Miss Peregrine’s island and are now traveling to 1940s war-era London. Their purpose for the journey is to try to help Miss Peregrine who, thanks to a spell, is now in bird-form. Along the way, they make new friends, become acquainted with some truly unique people and animals, and continue to battle the monsters who threaten the Peculiars’ existence.

 

Similar to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the characters in Hollow City have matured, and the issues and relationships they face have also become more serious. There is a balance of fast-paced suspense and horror melded with lighter and touching moments of friendships and loyalties, making this book and its predecessor good picks for both those who like fantasy or realistic fiction. Riggs continues the practice of using old, strange and, in some cases, disturbing vintage photographs to tell a story that combines real history with the fantastical. As many reviewers have pondered, in a “chicken or egg” fashion, did the photographs inspire the story or did the story create a search for unique photographs which would enhance the plot?

 

The film adaptation of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, directed by Tim Burton, is in development, and is due out in 2015.

Melanie

 
 

A Royal Mystery

A Royal Mystery

posted by:
January 16, 2014 - 6:00am

Cover art for Palace of SpiesSarah Zettel’s Palace of Spies tells the story of Peggy Fitzroy who was orphaned as a child and has lived with her Uncle and Aunt Pierpont and her beloved cousin Olivia ever since. At 16, her Uncle Pierpont announces that she is to marry Sebastian, the second son of Lord Sandford, and a much desired husband by her peers. Peggy is dismayed at the news but reluctantly agrees, despite never having met Sebastian. When they do meet at the social event of the season, he tries to assault her, and she is saved by a man named Mr. Tinderflint. Tinderflint tells her that he once knew her mother and implores her to take a post at the court that he has arranged for her. She refuses and runs back to the party. When Sebastian demands an apology the next day, she refuses and calls off the engagement, leading her uncle to kick her out of his house.
 

Left with no other options, Peggy remembers Mr. Tinderflint’s offer and decides to pay him a visit. When she reaches his address, she finds out that his offer is more complicated than it initially seemed. Her job is to assume the identity of the deceased Lady Francesca Wallingham, to whom she bears a striking resemblance. Francesca, one of Princess Caroline’s maids of honor, and a spy for Tinderflint and his associates Mr. Peele and Mrs. Abbott, passed away while visiting her home, leaving them without their spy at court. After enough training to portray Francesca, Peggy sets off for Hampton Court where she begins to question whether the real Lady Francesca Wallingham died of natural causes, as she was told, or if the lady was murdered. As she investigates Francesca’s demise and the loyalties of the court, readers are treated to a captivating mystery filled with intrigue, suspense and romance.

Laura

 
 

To Leningrad, With Love

The Boy on the BridgeOh, the romanticism of falling in love abroad, even when the city is Soviet-era Leningrad in the 1980s. In Natalie Standiford’s new novel, The Boy on the Bridge, Laura is an eager college student who's had a love affair with Russia since childhood. Studying abroad in Leningrad, despite the hardships of the time, is just another way to immerse herself in the culture and language. During a chance encounter, Laura meets Alyosha, a mysterious young man who defies the profile of the typical Soviet youth. He questions his government, is scornful of the blind devotion Russians have towards their leaders and is fascinated by all things American, including Laura. Unfortunately, all of these qualities make him a target for the KGB, and Laura becomes increasingly afraid for Alyosha’s safety, especially as she falls in love with him. But in a time of strained American-Soviet relations, when many Russians dream of escaping to the West by any means possible, can she really trust Alyosha’s affections?

 

Beautifully written and peppered with details about Soviet food, culture, manners, housing and customs, The Boy on the Bridge transports readers to frozen Leningrad in all its authenticity. Standiford presents a unique and nuanced love story with realistic characters and an honest look at Soviet Russia with its many complexities and contradictions. Like her main character, she spent a college semester abroad in Leningrad, and photos and information on her website provide context and visuals for what is in the story. In a recent interview in Baltimore magazine, Standiford, a Baltimore native, also answers questions about how this story differs from her own study abroad experience and shares some information about her upcoming books.

Melanie

 
 

Life in the City of Lights

Life in the City of Lights

posted by:
August 14, 2013 - 6:00am

Belle EpoqueSet in the late 1800s just as the Eiffel Tower is being built, Elizabeth Ross’ Belle Epoque tells the story of Maude Pichon, a 16-year-old girl who ran away from her small French village to Paris. Maude’s fresh start in the City of Lights doesn’t go exactly as she’d planned, as she has trouble finding work, and quickly runs out of money.  However, things seem to be turning around for Maude when an ad for a job with the Durandeau Agency catches her eye, and she is hired on the spot. The details of the job are sketchy; Maude only knows that the work is supposed to be undemanding and well-paying.

 

On her first day at the agency, Maude learns that the young women are hired by wealthy Parisians as repoussoirs. The owner of the agency, Durandeau, had the idea that rich Parisian women need a repoussoir, an ugly woman, to make them seem more beautiful in comparison. Maude is dismayed at the thought that she is ugly enough for the job, but given her dire financial situation, she feels she has no choice but to accept the work.

 

She is quickly hired by Countess Dubern to be the repoussoir for her daughter Isabelle, with the caveat that Isabelle can never know that Maude has been hired to spend time with her. Instead, the countess tells Maude to pretend that she is a distant relative of a friend, who has just arrived in Paris for the season. Maude quickly gets swept into Parisian high society, attending operas and balls, dressed in the latest fashions, all the while becoming friends with Isabelle, whom she is supposed to be deceiving. Belle Epoque is a fascinating novel—a coming of age story, mixed with a bit of romance, and a lot of history—perfect for fans of historical fiction.

Laura

 
 

A Poetry Inspired Mystery

Nobody's SecretMichaela MacColl’s Nobody’s Secret, based on Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” creates a fictional story as background for the poem. In doing so, MacColl tells an intriguing story that is part historical fiction, part mystery, and filled with allusions to Dickinson’s poetry.

 

In 1846 when Nobody’s Secret begins, Emily is laying in a field trying to get a bee to land on her nose when she is approached by a man she’s never seen. The two have a brief conversation discussing the best ways to get a bee to land on Emily’s nose, after which he departs. They never exchange names, only referring to themselves as Mr. and Miss Nobody. The two run into each other the next day, and Emily’s fascination with the enigmatic stranger grows. They discuss their families without revealing too many details. She even confesses her deepest secret—that she writes poetry. The real mystery begins when Mr. Nobody turns up dead in the Dickinson’s pond the following day, just two days after he and Emily first met. Having never exchanged names, Emily is determined to find out his identity so he can have a proper funeral. During her investigation, she realizes that his death was no accident, and then she sets out to find the killer.

 

MacColl’s fictionalized Emily Dickinson is a fascinating character, whose determination is admirable. Readers are quickly charmed by Mr. Nobody’s relationship with Emily, leaving them rooting for her to figure out who he was, and why he was murdered. Nobody’s Secret is a great pick for teens interested in historical fiction and mysteries, while those who enjoy poetry will enjoy the bits of Emily Dickinson’s poems interspersed throughout the novel.

Laura

 
 

Comics, Love, and Mix Tapes

Eleanor & ParkRainbow Rowell’s teen debut, Eleanor & Park is a story about first love, not fitting in during high school, punk rock, and comic books. Eleanor is a self-described chubby, curly-haired, redhead, who is teased mercilessly by her schoolmates. She has an even worse home life. Park, a half-Korean teenage punk rock fan, feels like he doesn’t fit into their town. They meet on the first day of school in 1986 when Park takes pity on Eleanor and lets her sit next to him on the bus.

 

For weeks, the two don’t speak a single word to each other as they ride to and from school, until Park realizes that Eleanor is reading his comic books over his shoulder. He begins paying attention to which ones she seems to like, and brings more for her to borrow. They read in silence on the bus, and she devours the borrowed comic books at home. Weeks later, Park breaks the silence, asking about the song lyrics she has written all over her notebooks. Eleanor confesses that she’s never heard any of these bands, and the lyrics are from songs she’d like to hear. So he makes her mix tapes and lends her his Walkman since she can’t afford one, let alone the batteries to keep it running. Once the silence is broken, they never stop talking; talking progresses to hand-holding, and that turns into love that readers see grow throughout the novel.

 

Park becomes Eleanor’s escape from her home life, and she becomes his from small-town America. Rainbow Rowell’s story about two misfits falling in love amidst the music and comic books of the late 1980s is a romantic, yet realistic novel. Older teens, new adults, and those whose adolescence took place in that era are all sure to enjoy it.

Laura

 
 

Victorian Teen Spirit

Victorian Teen Spirit

posted by:
March 19, 2013 - 7:05am

Cinders & SapphiresSixteen-year-old Lady Ada Averly is returning to England in the spring of 1910, following a ten year stay in India, as Cinders & Sapphires by Lelia Rasheed opens. During this ocean voyage, Ada encounters Ravi, an Indian Oxford student, and the two share an unforgettable but forbidden kiss. Ada returns to the family estate, Somerton Court, with her younger sister Georgiana, and their father, Lord Westlake. This is not a pleasant voyage, however, as they are facing financial ruin and rumors of a scandal that removed Lord Westlake from his post in India.

 

Once back at Somerton, the servants are woven into the story, including sixteen-year-old Rose, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Westlake and is the daughter of the housekeeper. Other servants include a footman with a secret past, and a conniving lady’s maid to Westlake’s soon-to-be stepdaughter. Somerton is abuzz with planning for the nuptials which will unite Westlake and the wealthy Fiona, who has three children of her own. However, Ada is interested in more than parties and shopping. This time before World War I is an awakening of new technologies and political ideas. Women’s rights and the fight for Indian independence are gaining momentum, and Ada is excited by all of it. She yearns for a university education. But her father’s tenuous social and financial standing prompt Westlake to discourage educational pursuits and instead focus on her debut season which will hopefully result in a proper engagement.

 

This is a quick-paced story told from multiple points of view that will appeal to both romance and historical fiction readers. This first in the At Somerton series does an excellent job of mixing affairs of the heart, scandal, and glittery social occasions while still highlighting the developing social consciousness of the era, and those fighting to combat accepted class, race, and gender discrimination.

Maureen

 
 

Secrets and Lies in NOLA

Secrets and Lies in NOLA

posted by:
February 26, 2013 - 7:01am

Out of the EasyFor most people, identity is tied closely to place, often a birthplace or childhood home. How much does where we come from affect who we are? Ruta Sepetys asks this question in her newest novel Out of the Easy, introducing us to that dichotomy of charming beauty and sinister vulgarity that is 1950’s New Orleans.  

 

Harkening to another famous literary Jo, namely Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March, Josie Moraine is an intelligent young woman trapped by time and place. The daughter of a prostitute, she is smart enough to get herself away from her neglectful and often abusive mother. Josie lives and works in a bookstore, saving money in the hopes of attending college far away from New Orleans. Self-sufficient since the age of seven, Josie creates a family out of necessity, including the Madam who becomes a surrogate mother (albeit a harsh and criminal one) and the bookseller and his son. But when her mother’s bad judgment pulls Josie back in to the criminal underbelly of the city, will she be able to rise above it yet again for a chance at her dreams?

 

Sepetys is no stranger to difficult subjects, and Out of the Easy explores the mature themes of violence, prostitution, and crime. As in her first novel for teens, Between Shades of Gray, the sense of place is paramount to the story. Indeed, many characters are named for places (Cincinnati, Charlotte, Forrest) and the city of New Orleans is a character in itself. This expertly-drawn portrait of a girl struggling to rise above her circumstances is highly recommended for mature teen and adult readers alike.  

Sam

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It is Not in the Stars to Hold Our Destiny, But in Ourselves

Jepp, Who Defied the StarsFor almost as long as monarchs have held court, dwarfs have found a foothold – however humble – amongst their courtiers. More often for the amusement or the curiosity of their host royals, the role of a court dwarf was like to be as ignominious a position as it was privileged. It is into the world of this overlooked margin of court society that author Katherine Marsh first thrusts her appealing protagonist, Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.

 

Born to a loving mother and cosseted by the tiny close-knit community of Astraveld, Jepp has enjoyed a sheltered childhood.  As the son of the village’s only innkeeper, Jepp has become accustomed to meeting strangers and hearing curious tales of faraway lands. Over time too, he has become accustomed to being considered a bit of a curiosity himself, at least to the inn’s less frequent visitors. One night in his fourteenth year, Jepp’s quiet and comfortable life comes to an abrupt crossroads with the arrival of a well-dressed stranger. The courtier, known to the reader as Don, offers Jepp what appears to be the opportunity of a lifetime – a position as a court dwarf at Coudenberg Palace, the lush seat of the Spanish Infanta. Jepp’s decision to follow his stars to court will forever alter his destiny, for good and ill.

 

Out of the sparse strands of the historical Jepp and those like him, Marsh weaves a startlingly graceful and poignant tale. Readers will come to care for this vulnerable yet strong, sensitive yet brave boy as he leaves his sheltered childhood behind to follow and mold his destiny. At turns heart-wrenching and gentle, suspenseful and reflective, Jepp’s story is one that will resonate with teens and adults alike. 

Meghan